Borough Local Plan Q&A with Cllr MJ Saunders

Borough Local Plan Q&A with Cllr MJ Saunders

Simon Meechan

Borough Local Plan Q&A with Cllr MJ Saunders

Public consultation is taking place on the draft Royal Borough Local Plan which identifies 23 greenbelt sites where houses could be built.

It is part of the process to provide 12,000 new homes by 2030, a target set for the council by the Government.

Simon Meechan asked the council's cabinet member for planning and property, Cllr MJ Saunders, how important the plan is and why people need to have their say.

Q: How important is the local plan to the future of the Royal Borough?

A: "Without an up to date Borough Local Plan the opportunity for developers to challenge  local decisions and encourage government inspectors to override local preferences increases,.

"Secondly the opportunity to collects contributions from developers becomes a major problem after Easter 2015, because the Section 106 arrangement is being replaced by CIL, and CIL can only be collected if you have an updated local plan.

"Therefore developer contributions stop.

"Developer contributions represent between £5million to £7.5million each year, which are critical to subsidise community investment in highways, schools in libraries and a whole range of leisure and other activities which are critical for the wider benefit of the community and partly, significantly paid for by developers introducing new properties into the neighbourhood."

Q: Is it a question of where homes go, not if?

A:“We have to demonstrate to a government inspector what our need for housing is based upon what our needs have been over the last five years.

That broadly requires over the next 15 years 12,000 homes to be built approximately 700, on average each year.

"If we fall short of it, which we can do, we have to clearly demonstrate to the inspector the transparent, honest justification for why we can not deliver the full 12,000.

All of the justification we provide will show that we have scoured the borough and identified all redevelopment opportunities in brownfield and other existing developed sites. That gives us 7,500.

"The inspector will examine all of the justification we provide. We will show that we have scoured the borough and identified all redevelopment opportunities on brown field and other existing developed sites. That gives us today, approximately 7,500.

"We have re-examined the opportunities for further development on top of 733 homes in the centre of Maidenhead. We currently believe that this can be increased to 1,400 and are continuing to explore opportunities to increase it to 2,400

"So that means that in addition to the 7,500 we can reasonably expect with increased homes in centre of Maidenhead to get to approximately 9,000. There is then a 3,000 gap."

"We have identified 23 previously undeveloped sites on the greenbelt which have capacity to build approximately 4,000 homes in total.

"However we expect some of those sites for a variety of reasons to become not appropriate.

“If the gap is 3,000 we do not actually need all of them. “

“If we can demonstrate that approximate half of that is appropriate. And we can convince the inspector that it is honest comprehensive, transparent, true answer, the inspector should be willing to allow us to leave a remaining 1,000 gap unfilled.

Q: How do you choose from the 23 sites?

A: “The first thing we do is reconsider whether any of these sites justify being fully protected as part of the greenbelt.

“We believe in the documents we have put out that those 23 sites deserve a discussion but it is perfectly reasonable for some of those sites to be taken out because after the consultation, as a result of what people say, we all conclude that some of those sites should not have been on that list for clear greenbelt justification criteria.”

"Important scenic views, grade one agricultural land, clear ecological value, for example  historic monuments.”

"We believe that all the 23 sites are deserving of some further discussion. The people, as part of this consultation, can make it clear to us that we should take off the list any of the sites because we may have downplayed inappropriately any of those criteria."

"And we encourage people to tell us."

Q: Why should people take part in the consultation?

“Because we want to be sure that our assessment of the greenbelt criteria is fair and accurate and that people agree.

“Secondly, that we have taken into account all local knowledge ass regards issues on the about sites, particularly as regards flooding and highways access."

"And thirdly any particular preferences they may have which we also be able to take into consideration

“But remember you cannot take to the inspector an argument that is simply based on people’s preference. The inspector will only listen to the logical objective analysis.

“If he thinks you have included other, weaker, reasons for deciding to take sites off the list, he or she is more likely to then require you to deliver the full 12,000.”

Q: How many of the proposed sites have flooded this year?

“A small minority have flooded. It's important to distinguish between different types of flooding.

It is beyond question that you will find it very difficult to develop the small numbers of sites where flooding has occurred because water has been pushed up out of the ground or has flowed onto the land out of the River Thames.

“However if a site has a certain amount of standing water on it, maybe a small depth, and the reason why the standing water is there is because the ground is so wet that the water can't drain into the ground quickly enough, then that can probably be developed. Because the developer will put in the necessary drainage to take that problem away."

Spencers Farm is one site earmarked for development. Photo by Rob Evans

Q: Will the flooding have an impact on which land is selected for new homes?

Yes. We have the real indisputable knowledge of where flooding has and has not occurred.

We do not have to guess or rely on assumption. We can look at it we can see it. If there's serious risk of flooding based upon current experience then those sites will not go forward for development, and the inspector should in all reasonable terms be fully prepared to accept that. That will eliminate some sites.

I can't tell you which because that would be jumping ahead of the consultation.

Q: Is greenbelt land the only option to meet housing targets?

Well our sequence is clear. We exploit every single brownbelt and previously developed site we can, if anyone would like the point me at one that I may have overlooked then please, dial the following number!

We are then looking at the next step to identify with careful urban design the opportunity to maximise the number of homes we can add in the centre of Maidenhead.

Next, and only next, will we seek to identify a modest amount of housing that will be developed on some of the 23 previously undeveloped greenbelt sites, which will be selected as a result of the outcome of this consultation.

We will not include sites in that 23 which can not be developed. If the current owner or occupier of the site is not prepared to indicate that site will be available in the next 15 years.

There are some sites where we do not have a clear indication from the current owner or occupier that they are very willing for development to occur on the site. One of these is Maidenhead Golf Club.

Q: What does happens if no local plan is agreed?

If no local plan is agreed the ability for local preferences and protection of our precious countryside and green belt becomes even more threatened.

Our ability to collect critical developer contributions that pays for important community facilities and highways and education and libraries and open places and recreation grounds will dry up.

It's not an option.

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